Automobile News, Opinion

The Future of Locomotion: Autonomous Driving

bmw self driving car

CES, the annual event that serves as a platform to showcase some of the most creative and path breaking inventions of the year has always been host to a wide array of developers from every field. Although phone and chip makers have always been regulars at the event developers from various other industries have slowly entered the fray.

ces 2014
CES brings together some of the most innovative ideas and path breaking technologies from manufacturers from across the globe

CES 2014 and 2015 saw the debut of BMW’s and Audi’s autonomous driving technologies. Both manufacturers have developed systems capable of maneuvering, accelerating and braking in high speed, high risk conditions. This new technology has been long touted to be the future. With game developers, film producers and even scientists proposing radical new modes of autonomous locomotion, the world strongly believes that the next big leap for the auto industry will be the autonomous driving era.

google self driving car
Tech giants such as Google have also shown keen interest in the field of self driving cars

Although BMW debuted its self driving tech much earlier, a far more refined system was showcased last year. Dubbed ConnectedDrive, the system was developed in-house by BMW’s Technik division. The project aims at making a some of the cars in the German automaker’s range fully autonomous by 2020.

bmw self driving car
BMW aims for a fully autonomous range by 2020

Demonstrated with the German car maker’s 6 Series Gran Coupe and 2 Series, the presentation featured the cars navigate an entire race course with no input from the driver whatsoever. More than that however, the Bimmers put on a breathtaking show with smokey burnouts and tail spins. The Bavarian manufacturer’s Autonomous driving tech painted the future in a new and wondrous light.

Audi, BMW’s biggest rival made its big leap into the future with its “Piloted Driving” system. Though not fully dependent on the computer’s vast array of sensors and processors as BMW, Audi’s new tech is just as impressive. While BMW showcased its system at CES in closed grounds, Audi took it one step further by testing the concept on a long distance drive from San Francisco all the way to Las Vegas where the event is held. Affectionately named Jack, the Audi sportsback managed to travel the 900 km journey with minimal input from the driver.

audi rs7 autonomous car
Audi’s customized RS7 made it through a 900 km journey with almost no driver input whatsoever

The self driving Audi car serves as a bridge between pure autonomous vehicles and our current generation. Similar to our transition from candle light to electricity, the shift from modern day locomotion to autonomous driving will be a gradual one. Although BMW envisions the grand future, Audi’s self driving A7 gives us an idea about what the very near future of road traffic will be.

While most of civilization embraces the future, some experts are rather discouraged and even dismiss the idea of autonomous driving. The idea of self driving cars may evoke images of a safer and less threatening future, however, in actuality, shocking latent ethical and legal complications frequently arise in the most common of situations.

Wired magazine’s Patrick Lin explores the mind boggling moral ramifications of simply designing a crash aversion and damage control algorithm for cars. He suggests that the development of such an algorithm is not unlike the design of a targeting mechanism. On the surface, these algorithms may be seen as a method for terrorist attacks. However, bizarre ethical and legal issues raise their ugly heads in real world applications. For example, consider an imminent crash wherein the autonomous crash must make a decision between colliding with a motorcyclist with a helmet and a motorcyclist without.

Common sense and probability dictates that the vehicle must collide with the biker that has a higher chance of survival i.e. the one wearing the helmet. This leads to a situation where the motorist adhering to the rules is punished. This will in turn lead to a radical change in riding habits of most bikers. By cultivating hazardous driving habits, such motorists will be less prone to “attack” from the on-board computer systems. A strange consequence of autonomous driving.

By ensuring cars and bikes are safer in tougher conditions, consumers have a tendency to push harder with the knowledge that the car has been designed to provide better safety. There is no escaping the veiled hurdles of the future but as Mr. Lin suggests, with conscious effort from consumers and a better understanding of what is under the hood of the car of the future, we can better appreciate and implement this new technology.

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Psst! Weekend Warrior isn't really his name. Chirag is an automotive journalist for TurboZens, one of the fastest growing autoblogs in India. if you can't find him tearing up clubs (his backyard) every weekend, you can always try Google+